Saturday, July 25, 2015

If anyone hates me, I'll be at Jiffy Lube

I was walking through a mall recently and there was a radio station doing a remote. The disc jockey was in the corner of this store, sitting in front of a microphone, the station’s call letters on a big sign above his head. All of the music, commercials, everything else was back at the station. So it was just this poor schmoe, pleading for listeners to stop on by. Of course, that’s when he was on the air. Most of the time he was not. A song or spot or promo was playing so it was just a poor schmoe sitting alone under a sign. It’s like when you give your kid a “time out”. A few shoppers crossed back and forth but no one paid attention. I passed by and a arctic breeze went right up my sphincter.

In an ideal world remotes would lure more people into the store (for which the station receives a healthy fee up front). It’s kinda like when Jiffy Lube has a grand opening and schedules Greasy the Clown to make a guest appearance so bring all the kids.

Also, the broadcast is supposed to sound more fun to the listeners because it’s unpredictable, the D.J. can interview folks who are there, it’s a big party.

Yeah. Right.

Most of the time no one shows up and the ones who do don’t give a shit. The disc-jockey (thinking it’s a rare chance to be a big celebrity) is pretty much reduced to that crazy guy with a pinwheel hat who talks to himself on the subway.

I’ve gotten roped into a number of these remotes during my checkered radio career. Frequently (i.e. 90% of the time) the equipment doesn’t work, it sounds awful, there’s loud feedback, headphones that don’t work, I never know when my mic is actually on so over songs you hear me saying, “Hello? Is this crap working?” “When I get back to the station I’m going to kill Lenny for setting this damn thing up.” Weather is occasionally an issue. I’ve done outdoor remotes in the rain (“If you’re coming folks would one of you please bring an umbrella?”), the heat, and mostly the wind. All of my commercial copy gets blown onto a freeway.

Usually I’ll have prizes to give away. But they’re always weenie, and I sound so pathetic begging people to drive twenty miles to get free station bumper stickers and kitchen magnets.

The few stragglers that do stop by usually say, “Who are you again?” or tell me how much they hate me or my station. And then they still ask for one of the prizes. “You want this fucking kitchen magnet? Bend over. How about a station ballpoint pen? Let me give you one of those, too.”

I’ve done them in hardware stores, tuxedo rental shops, record stores, a Denny’s, and an exclusive country club. That was fun, telling the thirty-five people in Los Angeles who were even eligible to come on by.

One time when the Dodgers were on XTRA 1150 I co-hosted a pre-game show from a tire store in Torrance. But since it was a day game from the east and we were on west coast time, the show started at 8:00. The store wasn’t even open until 10:00. We sat there alone in the parking lot.

And later that same year we did our broadcast from a car dealership in Anaheim, again set up in the parking lot. The dealer also happened to have his gardener there that day. All the listeners heard for a half an hour was a deafeningly loud leaf blower.

On the other hand -- at least they're LIVE.

They're local. They're unpredictable. All the things that radio used to be before networks, syndicated shows, voice tracking, satellites, simulcasting, and automation took over. Give me a leaf blower over Sean Hannity any day... although that has nothing to do with my views on remotes.

This is a re-post from four years ago. 

19 comments:

opimus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
opimus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oat Willie said...

Was Bucky the Engineer on the audio? (I can't remove my own comment,I don't know how).

Boomska316 said...

This reminds me of the WKRP episode where Johnny Fever does a live remote from some lame music store they're trying to get for a sponsor. Some crazy guy shows up with a gun claiming he wants to be a DJ.

Tudor Queen said...

I go to remotes whenever I can and I always enjoy them. The only morning show I like in our area is Bobby Rich's show on Mix96, and one day a friend and I saw Mrs. Grant doing a remote outside a JoAnn's fabric and a World Market, where I was going. We stopped to say hi, and we were hardly alone, as there were other fans gathered, but she was lovely to us (as well as just plain lovely) and very attentive. My friend entered a drawing for a JoAnn's gift certificate and we finally tore ourselves away.

Recently I was out of town and encountered a remote. The music and patter were excellent so we stopped to chat. The DJ was knowledgable and friendly, and told us how we could get the station on our computers.

I love remotes and wish I could stop by more of them!

Bud Wilkinson said...

Once did a remote from a Renaissance Fair on Phoenix's KOY and had to interview the "King," the lords and ladies and the jester. It was probably a :60 pop every 15 minutes to half-hour for three or four hours. Actually was quite fun - holding a running stopwatch and trying to get in a question, quickly plug the event and then toss back at the 59-second mark. Only thing missing was a mug of mead.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

St. Louis
August
Car dealer remote
Band on flatbed outside in the sun
105 degrees

Zero people. About an hour into this debacle, I went across the street and bought a bottle of Jack for the GM and crew. "Things go better with Coke." Really? Things went a lot better with Mr. Daniels...

MikeK.Pa. said...

What's a mall? Can I find one online?

Clyde King said...

Hey, can I still get a kitchen magnet?

Mike said...

Give me a leaf blower over Sean Hannity any day
It has to be said: a blow hard over a blow harder.

Mike Barer said...

Anyone remember the episode of WKRP where the broadcast was hi-jacked by a gun carrying fired DJ? That's what this post reminded me of.

Anonymous said...

Another fine post.

Reminds me of growing up in the Midwest and fairs--the best natural habitat for remotes. KDWB had a trailer outside the grandstand at the Minnesota state fair. The end of the trailer had been modified into a glass-enclosed booth that looked out over a grassy area with benches.

It was just so cool to hang out and watch the DJ work (back in the turntable days) and wait to get picked for a fairgoer interview or win grandstand tickets or pick up a t-shirt.

Thanks for the memories Ken--and True Don Bleu. (True Don Bleu and the Upper Division Rock and Roll Review will be at the New Munich Ballroom on Saturday night--be sure to set your time machine to like, what?, 1974 and join the fun.)

Keith

Artie Breyfogle said...

My favs over the years were all the PRIZE PIGS...

They sweep in and would grasp as many prizes as possible and then attempt to peddle them to someone else...High quality folks...

Radio is supposed to RELATE to listeners...Not even acknowledging them at the remote when they see you doesn't cut it...

Radio remotes are just an add on for sales to get an order or generate a few more ad dollars...I know, I was in sales...

D. McEwan said...

The only differences between Sean Hannity and a leaf blower is that a leaf blower performs an actual function, and even the gasoline-powered ones are less polluting that Hannity.

When I was working with "Sweet Dick" Whittington at KGIL, we did some of the wildest, most-bizarre remotes anyone ever did. Dick, of course, did not do remotes from store openings, but instead did crazy remote stunts, and we never did one that didn't have a crowd of regular listeners show up and participate. (Plus, thanks to our technical whiz Dave Mandelbaum, our remotes always sounded as good as in-studio.) Some of my weirdest and best memories were of our wilder remotes: doing a week live-on-the-air-in-Los Angeles from the Spokane World's Fair (Talk about REMOTE, we were 1500 miles away!), doing an hour from a hot air balloon floating over the valley "Float up and say Hi." (I was nearly killed when the balloon crashed!), The Catalina War, The Wedding of the Queen Mary (That one was for KFI, rather than our usual KGIL, but hundreds of people showed up for it, and it was covered by three local TV news stations), every Halloween going door-to-door in the station's neighborhood with listeners along, Trick-or-Treating, in the morning "So we get to the good candy before all those rapacious kids."

One of my favorites was an "Opening" we did play: a garage door opening. We had garage door openers as a sponsor, so we did a live remote from the driveway of a customer who had just had one installed, covering the "Garage Door Opening." Our "Special Guest Door Opener" was John Cassavettes. People showed up for that. I've got pictures. (I have pictures from most of them.) I drove John Cassavettes to the event myself. He thought he was just going to be doing an in-studio plug interview for his movie Husbands, which unfortunately, I had seen a couple days before, and had LOATHED (The most-self-indulgent movie I've ever seen), so I had to talk to him in the car about anything else. But instead of the in-studio interview, he found himself hi-jacked to a Van Nuys tract house's driveway, to open their garage door to cheers. I don't think he had a clear idea of what was going on, though I'd certainly explained it to him) but he was game at least.

But I also remember on my own Grad Night at Disneyland, seeing the DJ from KFWB at a remote booth near the House of the Future (I'm old!), doing alive remote at 1 AM. What was he gonna say? "Run right out and graduate tonight, and then come by and see me, just a short stroll form the Matterhorn." And I remember meetnig Dick Sinclair for the first time, 12 years before workng with him daily at KFI, when he was doing a live "Polka Parade" remote from a Stater Brothers opening out in Orange County, looking very embarrassed. I was glad I was never part of remotes like those.

Of course, I did work briefly at KEZY when it was located in the Disneyland Hotel, so you were always on the air with tourists, hotel guests and shoppers wandering by and gawking. I remember seeing Emperor Bob Hudson there one afternoon say, off the air, about the record he was playing: "This song is shit!" and then pouring his cup of hot coffee all over the record and turntable as it was playing on the air.

Cap'n Bob said...

Since you mentioned Jiffy Lube, let me say that's it's a ripoff and people should go elsewhere. Consider this a public service announcement.

Anonymous said...

I was an A.E. (salesman) at KGIL for about two years and was involved in many of their "camper" remotes at various retail locations. But remember Sweet Dick's ballon remote. My cube was next to the broadcast studio and one day I hear him, loudly telling, what I think was A.E. responsible, "don't ever book me in another hot air balloon ride!" after the crash. Black Angus restaurants always did a hot air balloon promotion when they opened a new location. The owner was an enthusiast. Not long after, I'm at KRLA, and one of my accounts was Black Angus and they were opening a restaurant just off the newly completed 210 freeway. And of course they want a hot air balloon tie in. With Sweet Dick's s voice ringing in my ears, I set it all up. The first day we tethered the balloon at site, over the freeway and did live morning traffic reports from it. Our traffic guy was all for it. The station's engineer refused to do it (must have heard about Sweet Dick) and I was the engineer. After doing the morning traffic, they untied the balloon and took me for a cross town ride to show how safe it was. No problems, we landed in a large commercial parking lot next to an elementary school. It was really fun. Next day it was our morning man, Dave (the Hullablooer) Hull's turn, I'm in the chase truck, taking pictures. They followed the same route as the previous day. Sure enough, they crash land, up against a chain link fence next to the school. I have pictures of the of the basket leaning on the fence with about a hundred school kids hanging there looking on. Dave does still speak to me.

Gerry said...

When I met my wife in Tulsa she was working in radio ad sales and I went with her on one remote at a new unisex hair salon. It was EXACTLY like you describe, Ken! We had a couple of bored psycho teenagers show up. That was the high point.

thirteen said...

I did a book signing once at a Waldenbooks in some mall in Maryland. People passed me right by. Some looked as if they felt sorry for me. One or two actually said something. ("Who are you?" "Is this book any good?" "Can I get a free copy?") After that, my wife and I had lunch at the mall with the Waldenbooks guy and a middle-aged couple I didn't know. Turned out their son had died a couple of years before, and they wanted help setting up a library named for him at his high school. They had a fat three-ring folder of pictures of their son with his friends, his car, the school, and so on, and we were to look at each and every one of the pictures. Mom finally looked in my direction and asked, "What can you do for us?", which turned out to be the only thing either Mom or Dad would say to me during the hour and a half we were together. I know as much about setting up a library as I do about running a Waldenbooks, so there wasn't much I could do except let lunch get cold while Mom and Dad jabbered at the poor Waldenbooks guy.

Tom Lawler said...

One of the few stations that does actual remotes that don't suck is WLNG out in the Hamptons - if the rolling roadcaster or the King Cruiser is out and about...the show really is on the road. Everything but the spots is from the live location, and they don't need to have magnets or chip clips to draw people out. I was at a carnival with them, losing games live on the air much to the amusement of the jock.

As much as I love the talent fees, I think remotes should be for actual events. 'Cause playing cornhole with the promotions person trying to impress the client when nobody shows up makes us all look like dweebs.